Almost half of AU’s employees don’t know about the university’s gender equality policy

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Close to half of AU’s employees are not familiar with the university’s gender equality policy, reveals a survey by an AU researcher. It also reveals that employees are generally blind to problems with gender equality.

2019.04.11 | Miriam Brems

‘If you sleep your way to the top, you can’t have second thoughts about it ten years later.’ This is one of the comments made by an AU employee in Lea Skewes’ survey. Photo: AU Photo. Illustration: Louise Thrane Jensen.

THEME: Gender equality at AU

Three years ago, AU’s management made a call for more women in research. But the rest of the organisation has responded with deafening silence.

Postdoctoral researcher Lea Skewes is behind one of five research projects initiated last year to evaluate progress on gender equality at AU. And according to her findings, there’s no reason to start popping champagne corks yet.

This summer, she sent out a large questionnaire about gender equality to the university’s employees.

A total of 1805 employees responded. And about 43 percent of them indicated that they aren’t familiar with Au’s gender equality policy. Another 36 percent didn’t want to comment on the policy, had no opinion about it or simply left the question blank.

“This suggests that a very large proportion of the employees aren’t familiar with AU’s gender equality policy. And so it’s obvious that it’s very difficult to implement it,” Skewes says.

The gender equality policy makes no difference at all

One in five employees who took the survey took the opportunity to comment on on the policy in their response. About half of these respondents stated that the gender equality policy makes no difference or very little difference. 

“The theme that most of the employees addressed was that they found that there was a lack of correlation between what AU says, what the university stands for in relation to gender equality, and what actually goes on. A smaller group even indicated that they didn’t believe that the management genuinely supports equality, but only wants it on paper,” Skews says.

AU employees are blind to gender equality

The survey also suggests that the average AU employee is blind to gender equality issues and has a negative attitude towards measures aimed at increasing gender equality.

“This makes sense, because if you don’t think there’s an inequality, you will perceive interventions as something that results in discrimination against the men.”

This part of the survey was based on a standardized questionnaire developed by four American researchers in the 90s. In this section, respondents are presented with a series of statements and are asked to indicate the extent to which they agree on a scale from 1 to 7. Examples include ‘Discrimination against women is no longer a problem in Denmark’ or ‘Women are rarely treated in a sexist way on TV’.

“The scale is used to measure ‘modern sexism’. What’s interesting is whether you’re able to see that we haven’t yet achieved equality,” Skewes explains.

If you score 3.5 or below, you disagree that we have already achieved full equality. The average score of AU employees is 4.18. And that’s a problem, according to Skewes.

“It’s frighteningly high. The only test I could find with a score that high was done on soldiers in the South African navy.”

In other words, the average AU researcher has the same take on inequality between the sexes as an average South African marine. According to Skewes, this stands in dramatic contrast to most other countries in Europe and the United States, which were already scoring on the non-sexist end of the scale back in the 90s.

Couldn’t you object that the answers simply express the fact that there actually is equality?

“Yes, but there’s research that indicates that we still haven’t achieved equality. There’s no research that supports that we have full equality. I don’t know of any other countries that are that naive as to believe that the gender equality problem is something that’s over.”

Being groped never hurt anyone

If we examine the correlations between how high respondents score on the sexism scale and how much they think AU is already doing for equality, the trend is clear: people who score high on the sexism scale also believe that AU is doing enough – or is even discriminating against men.

And resistance to additional measures to promote equality is also expressed in other ways. Skewes also asked the employees what they think about the #MeToo movement. She was interested in investigating people’s attitudes about women reporting sexual harassment anonymously – an option she says might help women at AU put an end to sexual harassment.

“We got comments like ‘Being groped never hurt anyone, and it’s just something you have to deal with’ or ‘If you sleep your way to the top, you can’t have second thoughts about it ten years later’, Skewes says.

She believes that the survey indicates that many employees at AU would not welcome initiatives aimed at ensuring equality. And the 29 pages of critical emails she’s received about the survey support that conclusion, she says:

“They were primarily from colleagues who don’t study gender or psychology, but nonetheless they were convinced that they knew more about my field than I do. Some just said banal stuff, like that I was incompetent. Some also commented in the free-text fields in the survey itself that a survey like the one I sent out was an expression of reverse discrimination against men.”

No more empty rhetoric

On the background of her research, Skewes thinks that AU’s management needs to make it clearer that sexism isn’t acceptable at the university.

“What we need isn’t more empty rhetoric. We already have enough of that. What we need to put action behind the words.”

Translation: Lenore Messick.

THEME: Gender equality at AU

  • In spring 2018, AU granted a total of 650,000 kroner to five research projects aimed at investigating gender bias and gender equality issues at the university.
  • Omnibus has interviewed researchers from all five projects to find out what they’ve discovered – and what can be done to improve gender equality at AU.
  • In this article, we’ll present the results of the last three projects.
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